November 27, 2014

Town backs out of rule limiting cafe deliveries

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Beeping trucks wake guests, B&B owner says

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Williston has repealed a rule limiting delivery hours at a popular cafe, allowing the town to sidestep a long-running dispute between neighboring businesses.

The Development Review Board last week eliminated restrictions on the Old Brick Cafe. Planning staff urged the change, asserting that they did not have time to enforce the rule, which permitted deliveries only between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. They said the town’s noise control ordinance should instead govern deliveries.

The rule was originally imposed as part of the cafe’s conditional-use permit and later revised to allow deliveries an hour earlier.

Noisy delivery trucks have been a continuing irritation for Williston Village Bed & Breakfast, the Old Brick Cafe’s next-door neighbor in Williston Village. Owner Algis Shalna has repeatedly complained that delivery trucks, with their beeping backup warning, disturb his guests. He asserts the cafe has failed to comply with the limits on delivery hours and says trucks sometimes show up before 7 a.m.

Shalna criticized the town for not enforcing its own rules. He said Williston officials seem to be favoring one business over another.

“I’m just frustrated and mad,” he said. “It seems like I can’t do anything about it.”

Old Brick Cafe owner David Herskowitz said Shalna has opposed his business since he first sought a permit. Herskowitz said he has tried to minimize disruptions but he has limited control over when delivery trucks arrive.

“I don’t want to create any problems with my neighbors, as much as he might think so,” Herskowitz said. As for trying to negotiate with Shalna, Herskowitz said his neighbor simply isn’t “talkable.”

Town staff said delivery hours could not be enforced because they do not have the manpower to constantly watch the cafe.

“Staff cannot accept neighbors’ unilateral complaints as the sole evidence of zoning violations,” wrote Town Planner Lee Nellis and Zoning Administrator D.K. Johnston in a memo. “We must confirm the violation in the field. We do not have staff resources to wait for delivery vehicles to appear at the Old Brick Cafe, or any other use, at odd hours.”

The rule, Nellis and Johnston wrote, is also legally invalid because when the Development Review Board extended the delivery hours it added a provision that would have rescinded the new hours if there was a violation. Only a court can assess such a penalty, they wrote.

It is unclear if the noise ordinance applies to beeping delivery trucks. The ordinance exempts safety signals and warning devices “including but not limited to” backup alarms required under federal and state laws.

The problems with delivery trucks started after the cafe opened last year, Shalna said. After numerous complaints, he said the situation improved last fall. But then this spring Shalna said trucks again repeatedly showed up before 8 a.m.

In their memo, Nellis and Johnston said the delivery hour limits were inconsistent with the intent of the village zoning district, which permits a range of commercial activity.

“Anyone who lives in or operates a business in the (district) knows that it is a mixed-use area,” they wrote. “They should not be surprised when neighboring businesses behave in ways that are typical of such businesses.”

Shalna said he has no problem with the cafe or other noise generated by passing cars and emergency vehicles along busy U.S. Route 2. He noted the cafe could actually benefit his guests, who have a nearby place to eat.

But the beeping delivery trucks are like an alarm clock, he said, frequently rousing his family and his customers. He said he just wants the trucks to show up a little later in the morning.

“It’s hurting our business,” Shalna said. “We have people trying to sleep quietly when they are woke up by the beeping noise from trucks.”

Herskowitz said the rule change will have little effect. He will continue to request delivery drivers avoid early morning deliveries.

Shalna said he doesn’t understand why the town couldn’t enforce the rule. He noted when he opened the bed and breakfast, the town had no problem requiring him to plant expensive spruce trees.

“Why waste all that time setting rules?” he said

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Residents can weigh in on huge development

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Public hearing continues on Tuesday

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Development often provokes “not in my backyard” opposition, with neighbors typically worried about new homes and businesses clogging traffic, blocking views and hurting their quality of life.

But a proposal for a king-sized subdivision has at least some Williston residents looking beyond their own property lines to the impact on the town as a whole. A meeting on Tuesday will allow residents to continue voicing their opinions about what would be the biggest housing development ever built in Williston.

Finney Crossing would be located on 110 acres just northeast of Taft Corners. Plans call for 356 housing units as well as retail and office space.

Developers Bob Snyder of the Snyder Companies and Jeff Davis of J.L. Davis Inc. unveiled project details last month during a Development Review Board meeting. About 15 residents attended the hearing.

They expressed concerns ranging from the project’s effect on school enrollment to its impact on the environment. Most touched on town-wide issues.

For example, Priscilla Miller, who lives near the proposed development, asked how Finney Crossing might impact property taxes. She noted that as Williston gets bigger, property taxes keep rising.

“Who tells us about the impact on our tax rate for a project like this?” she said. “Our taxes go up, up, up the more developed we get.”

Donna Roeser had concerns both about the impact on her neighborhood and on school enrollment. Roeser, who lives in the Taft Farms subdivision adjacent to the new project, asked if Finney Crossing’s streets would connect to other neighborhoods. She also wondered how many students the project would add to Williston schools.

Snyder said the project would connect with Chelsea Commons and a yet-to-be-built subdivision called The Hamlet on Vermont Route 2A. He noted that because most of the units are two bedrooms and therefore not attractive to most families, the development would generate few children for Williston schools. Snyder estimated the project would add only 67 students over the project’s 10-year build-out period.

Kevin Batson wondered about the project’s effect on the environment. He questioned plans to use an existing pump station in Brennan Woods – a project also built by Snyder Companies – that discharged sewage into Allen Brook in 2002 after an apparent electrical malfunction.

Batson, who is a Williston Planning Commission member, said in an interview he was speaking only for himself. He lives a couple of miles away from the new project, in the Williston Hills subdivision off Route 2A.

But Batson is still worried about what will happen in his backyard because Allen Brook flows behind his home and his 12-year-old boy plays near the water. “This is a public health issue,” he said.

Aside from its sheer size, Finney Crossing is also unique because it will include a mix of densely clustered townhouses, condominiums and owner-occupied apartments. Single-family homes will also be constructed, but they will comprise less than 10 percent of the units.

Fewer details are available about the 20 acres of commercial space. Davis said at last month’s meeting that the retail buildings would be much smaller than big-box stores he has built in nearby Taft Corners Park, home to Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Residents’ concerns or even outright opposition do not by themselves provide a legal basis for the Development Review Board, a quasi-judicial body, to reject a project, according to Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis. But citizens’ input can and frequently does prompt the board to add conditions to project approvals that can address concerns.

He said the best way for residents to shape development is to get involved with formulating the Comprehensive Plan. The plan, which is revised every five years, provides a blueprint for growth. But residents can still have a say on individual projects.

“Williston’s DRB makes countless small adjustments in response to what it hears,” Nellis said in an e-mail. “The key is for people to pay attention and be there.”

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Meals on Wheels warms hearts and stomachs

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

“Meals on Wheels!”

The announcement by Betty Emery, 79, and Shirley Miles, 76, is cheery. Door after door, from individual homes in neighborhoods to apartments in senior living communities, the two Williston residents can be seen every Monday delivering hot meals and a brown bag filled with drinks and dessert, announcing their presence with the same three words. The visits are brief, but the interactions, like the meals, are warm.

“We’ll see you next week, dear,” Emery says, leaving one client recently. “Bye bye, dear.”

For the last five years, Emery and Miles have delivered a hot lunch to the home of each Williston Meals on Wheels client every Monday. Throughout the state, Meals on Wheels ensures people age 60 and over get proper nutrition by having at least one good meal a day. Bag suppers also are available.

Last year over 178,000 Meals on Wheels were delivered in Chittenden, Addison, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, according to the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging. About 1,000 people are served in the four-county area, though the number is in constant flux. Some are clients for a few weeks as they recover from a hospitalization; some are clients for years.

“ What we basically say is that Meals on Wheels is for those that are unable to prepare meals for themselves,” Zoe Hardy, CVAA nutrition director, said. She emphasized that people of any income level are eligible. “If you’re on multiple meds, and don’t feel hungry (and don’t cook), it’s a slippery slope and pretty soon you’re in the hospital because of malnutrition.”

According to the CVAA Web site, 50 percent of seniors admitted to the hospital suffer from malnutrition severe enough to have caused their illness or impede their recovery. The Agency also indicates that 85 percent of older Americans have chronic illnesses that could be helped by better nutrition.

Diane Troupe, 68, learned how nutritious the meals are after she became a client following surgery for a pacemaker. Three months later, she went to see her doctor.

“She said ‘your cholesterol and your blood pressure has gone down, what have you been doing different?’” Troupe explained. “I kind of smiled and said ‘well I’ve been eating better. I’ve been doing Meals on Wheels.’”

The hot lunches include protein, vegetables, milk, juice, bread and fruit. Two Mondays ago, the Williston menu was ham, a pineapple ring, scalloped potatoes and broccoli and onions on the microwavable hot plate, and peaches for dessert. During the summer in Williston, a cold plate is served once a week – usually a green salad with meats and cheeses.

“To me the meals are always happy meals,” Troupe said, noting the meals are good tasting. “They’re colorful. Plus the people are like family.”

The personal connection is a big piece of Meals on Wheels, according to Williston route coordinator Patty Pasley.

“The service really isn’t just meal delivery; it’s also being able to check on the clients every day,” said Pasley, who started volunteer as a driver six years ago and has been coordinating the Williston route drivers for three years. Pasley said she sets up emergency procedures with her drivers such as what to do if someone is found passed out on the floor.

“The volunteers are taking on quite a responsibility there I think,” Pasley said.

Twenty volunteers regularly deliver meals to one of two Williston routes, Pasley said. Meals are prepared at St. James Episcopal Church in Essex Junction where volunteers – most of whom deliver twice a month – pick them up. Emery and Miles deliver weekly and to everyone in Williston – but they’re the exception. Emery and Miles are the norm, however, in that they are retired; Pasley said about 80 percent of the Williston route drivers are.

Pasley said since she’s been involved with the program, there has been a significant percentage increase in clients. Six years ago, Pasley said there were about 10 or 12 clients; now there are 30.

One of those new clients is Martha Moore, 85, who signed up for Meals on Wheels after two months in a nursing home due to a broken hip.

The volunteers who deliver are “just great, every one of them,” Moore said. “They come in and say ‘how are you? Are you alright today?’ And they visit, just as much as they can” before moving on to the next delivery.

Gus Agosta, 77, a Whitney Hill Homestead resident also spoke highly of the people contact Meals on Wheels provides.

“They’re excellent delivery people,” said Agosta, whose favorite meals include “porcupine balls” – a meat and rice ball – and shepherd’s pie. “They’re always checking to see if I need something else while they’re here.” Taking mail to the box and taking garbage out are among the extra things some volunteers do for him.

Agosta, who suffered from a brain tumor, said without the meal service, he would have to have take-out – which likely would not be as nutritious – or he would have to try to cook himself.

“I have to use a walker; I’m not able to stand by the stove good,” Agosta said. “I have to watch that I don’t grab something that’s hot.”

Agosta said he thinks more people who need meals should try the program.

“They would find out they’re real, real good,” Agosta said.

Troupe concurred. “It’s like you’re being spoiled, that’s how I feel,” she said

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CVU freshmen get head start

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Dillon Palmer said he didn’t know much about Champlain Valley Union High School before he started CVU Summer Camp. Sitting in a computer lab last Thursday, distorting digital photographs of his new friends and acquaintances, Dillon said now he knows a lot more.

“I can get my way around the school easily,” Dillon said. “I’ve met a lot of new friends. I like the school a lot. And I can’t wait to start.”

Having soon-to-be freshmen like Dillon make a positive connection with high school before the first day of classes makes the transition from middle school easier, said CVU Summer Camp Activity Director Duncan Wardell.

“You need to feel you have a place in the community, that you can contribute, (that you) are recognized,” Wardell said. “Then I think the mind shifts where it says ‘okay, what is for math homework tonight?’”

CVU Summer Camp is offered twice, for two weeks, July through early August so that incoming freshmen can get comfortable before diving into classes. About 27 percent of this year’s incoming class enrolled in one – or both – of the sessions, according to Wardell. Each session boasts about 45 students and counselors who participate in a series of large and small group activities. Last Thursday morning, for example, students began the day with a scavenger hunt that helped them learn where to find certain services and people.

Students also choose three of 12 individual interest areas to pursue. Poetry and creative writing, engineering, hip hop fitness, and garage band are among the interest areas from which students chose this year.

Carpooling and scholarships for the $240 session (or $450 for both) are available, Wardell said.

Incoming freshmen aren’t the only ones learning at Summer Camp. Ten to 12 counselors – about half current CVU students and half CVU graduates – facilitate activities, a skill that Wardell said will serve them well in a range of future jobs.

CVU alumna Naomi Krasnow, also a graduate of Alfred University, is finishing up her third year as a counselor at Summer Camp before returning to school for a teaching certificate in art education. Krasnow, who facilitates the art-related interest area of drawing, painting and sculpting, said Summer Camp was her first time teaching.

“I thought it would be good experience in working with kids and I guess practicing lesson plans for me for my future jobs,” Krasnow said. The experience has given her a greater perspective on how different students learn, she said, but her multi-year commitment to summer camp goes beyond that.

“I also really like the idea of helping incoming freshmen to get a better handle on the school and meet new kids,” Krasnow said. “I wish I had this program … before I got here; I think that would have helped me a lot.”

Working on a charcoal drawing, Kelsey Golder of Williston says she feels a lot better about starting high school as a result of participating in CVU Summer Camp.

“I like that you get to know a few people before you go into the new place and you get to know your way around so you’re not lost the first day” of school, Kelsey said.

Besides making new friends and getting to know the building, Wardell said learning there are good older student mentors is another advantage of camp. For some, Wardell said, camp is “debunking the myth that upperclassmen are around to push you into lockers.”

Dillon concurs, speaking highly of the counselors he’s met.

“They seem very nice, unlike things that I’ve heard,” said Dillon, who most looks forward to history class and learning Greek mythology at CVU. “I’ve heard that the older kids pick on freshmen a lot, but I honestly don’t think that’s true.”

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All aboard for annual Dragon Boat Festival

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By Susan Green
Observer correspondent

Despite their rather ordinary appearance, Williston residents who gathered outside Burlington’s Community Sailing Center last weekend fancy themselves Brains and Brawn. That’s the playful name they’ve chosen to acknowledge the mix of educators and athletically inclined people pulling together as a team.

“I’m their manager,” says Debra McConnell, who recruited several fellow teachers and a few fitness aficionados hoping to paddle their way to triumph on Sunday, Aug. 6. Brains and Brawn will be among some 1,200 adults on 52 teams competing in the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival at the Queen City’s Waterfront Park.

The benefit event is the brainchild of Dragonheart Vermont. This group of local breast cancer survivors and their supporters formed in 2004 to maneuver a narrow, elongated canoe decorated with the head and tail of that legendary serpent.

“Four of us began with a borrowed boat,” recalls Dragonheart founder Linda Dyer, 53, of Richmond. “The sport seemed very inclusive. It became a wonderful sisterhood of breast cancer survivors paddling for recovery.”

The idea clicked with McConnell, 45. “After breast surgery two years ago, I was at a low point when I saw a newspaper article about dragon boat races in my oncologist’s office,” she explains. “I joined up in 2005 to be with people who’ve been through similar traumas and to gain physical strength. It’s been like having a new chapter in my life.”

Nowadays, in addition to practicing three times a week on the lake as part of the official Dragonheart team, she also helps guide those novice paddlers.

The Brains part of the equation incorporates Williston teachers and school administrators including Lynn Kennedy, Rachel McKnight, Jennifer Oakes, Suzy Haas, Tracey D’Amato and Amy Cole.

Brawn comes into the picture with Tarken Chase, a personal trainer and fitness instructor who’ll be on hand Sunday with five “fitness followers” he has whipped into shape.

Steve Bradish, who serves on the town planning commission, may be a governmental buffer zone between the two categories. At 67, he’s the only team member with significant dragon boat experience. His paddler credentials were accrued while living in Hong Kong during the mid-1980s.

A Quebec company has been contracted to provide eight fiberglass dragon boats, the requisite equipment and professional coaches to manage the races, which range from 250 to 2,000 meters in length. They’ll begin every 12 minutes all day long.

Twenty participants sit two-by-two in each 40-foot boat, along with someone standing in the stern to control the steering oar and a drummer in the bow to create the paddling cadence. Teams race three times, earning medals and possibly qualifying for a variety of other prizes — even one for the best team song.

A traditional “eye dotting” ceremony will be held to paint pupils on the wooden dragonheads, symbolically awakening the beneficent beast and bringing good luck. How fortuitous that Lake Champlain may have its very own denizen of the deep, the monster known as Champ.

The modern festivity dates back about 2,500 years to a Chinese ritual for protecting the populace from evil and disease. It gained momentum in 277 BC, when political reformer and poet Chu Yuan drowned himself after failing to redeem a king mired in corruption. Peasants then tossed offerings of rice into the river from boats designed to look like dragons. Belief in this mythical creature stemmed from its role as the zodiac’s most venerated sign, thought to avert misfortune.

Over the centuries, dragon boats evolved into a global phenomenon. “It is the second most popular team sport in the world after soccer,” says Dyer, a 14-year breast cancer survivor. “In Canada, it’s the second most popular sport after hockey.”

Canada is also where the notion of dragon boat races was first connected to breast cancer a decade ago. A physician in British Columbia, Dr. Don McKenzie, wanted to dispel the mistaken theory that such upper-body exercise posed a danger to women in treatment for the ailment. A team, Abreast in a Boat, was launched to prove his point.

In 2004, the Green Mountain State caught dragon fever. After a year of fundraising, Dragonheart had enough money to purchase two boats, dubbed Lady and The Champ. Recently, Dyer and her cohorts paddled to victory at a race in Montreal. “We got a gold medal in our division,” she boasts.

In Burlington, Saturday has been set aside for the Well-Healed Challenge. Invited breast cancer survivor teams from Montreal, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Vermont will take a breakfast cruise and do some dragon boat racing.

They’ll also be in the proceedings on Sunday, when boats link together at day’s end as pink carnations are thrown into the water “to honor the dead and celebrate life,” Dyer says.

The festival goal is to raise funds for a new ultrasound machine needed by the Radiation Oncology Department at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Activities include shoreline food, entertainment, a silent auction, martial arts demonstrations and a tag sale called “DragonMart.” On the water, watch for an array of teams affiliated with organizations and businesses, from the Visiting Nurse Association to Shearer Chevrolet. Citizens Bank, the festival’s presenting sponsor, will have several teams.

Brigitte Ritchie has a dual commitment to dragon boats. As vice-president of public affairs and community relations at Citizens Bank, she helped forge the partnership between her company and the festival.

The 44-year-old Williston resident also feels a personal stake in paddling; she was treated for breast cancer three years ago. “At first, the idea of jumping into a boat with a bunch of strangers didn’t appeal to me,” Ritchie says. “Now, it’s a passion.”

Her team is the Citizens Bank Dragon Warriors. “But we’ve included the community,” Ritchie explains. “I’ve got people from United Way and the Lund Family Center, plus some customers. There’ll be five paddlers from the American Taekwondo Academy in Williston. The owner, Tim Stoll, is our team captain. And he’s a black belt!”

For more details about the festival, call 434-4423, email [email protected] or visit www.ridethedragon.org.

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